Even as the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) governments in Uttar Pradesh and at the Centre are finalising plans to begin construction of a “grand” Ram Mandir in Ayodhya in the first or second week of August, a group of Buddhist organisations led by the Bihar-based Azad Bauddh Dhamma Sena (ABDS) has announced a nationwide agitation to oppose their plans.
Talking to Frontline , ABDS chief priest Bhanteya Buddha Sharan Kesariya said that the moves of the State and Central governments were not acceptable to ABDS as they were tantamount to disrespecting the holy history of Lord Buddha and the history of Buddhist traditions. “We will not allow this violation to happen. The ABDS will organise protests in Ayodhya and in other parts of the country before the planned construction work is launched. In fact, we have already begun the agitation through representations to the authorities, including the Governor, and through dharnas and sit-in fasting programmes in the temple town.”
The priest added that the Buddhist community has always held that Ayodhya was the ancient Buddhist city of Saket, which was established by Kaushal Naresh Raja Prasenjit in memory of the sage Lomash Rishi. “Throughout the period when the Ayodhya land dispute case was going on over several decades in different courts of the country, leaders of our community had sought to implead itself in the case, but did not succeed on account of various factors, including the indifference of the judicial authorities. However, evidence that has come up following the Supreme Court verdict in the Ayodhya case on November 9, 2019, have compelled us to revive our claim. The Vishva Hindu Parishad (VHP)-led Shri Ram Janmabhoomi Trust has been doing some preparatory work for the construction of the temple in the area since the verdict. During the course of this preparatory work, several Buddhist artefacts have been unearthed, once again asserting the validity of our claims. The Buddhist artefacts have been repeatedly unearthed as late as the second week of May 2020. We see these discoveries as a divine sign that we should assert our rights through peaceful agitations.” He added that the agitations would ultimately roll out on an international level with the help of Buddhist organisations in China, Japan, Sri Lanka, Nepal and several European countries.
The ABDS has made it clear that it does not have any objection to the construction of Ram temple in Ayodhya. The organisation insists that valid Buddhist sensibilities should not be hurt.
The Shri Ram Janmabhoomi Trust is of the view that the ABDS has only a nuisance value. Nagendra Singh, an Ayodhya-based activist of the VHP told Frontline : “To start with, there is no space for legal proceedings after the November 2019 verdict. Indeed, theoretically, one can argue that there have been precedents where fresh evidence was accepted by the judiciary to reopen a case. But to reach that stage, an organisation would have to develop a mass agitation lasting a long period. But the ABDS does not seem to have the wherewithal to sustain a long agitation, or enough resources to build up pressure on the State or Union government. Either this agitation would die out on its own or the public would put an end to it.”
This perception seems to have the acceptance of a sizeable segment of the population in Ayodhya. Still, people are curious how the ABDS’ plans would pan out and how much of an irritation the small Buddhist organisation can cause to the VHP, the State and Union governments and to the Rashtriya Swayamsewak Sangh (RSS), the ideological fountain-head of the Sangh Parivar.